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Postcards from the “E”dge – Perils of the Perennially Plugged-in

by Navin Ganeshan on August 26, 2011

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Vacations are always a great opportunity to get some perspective.  Particularly so when you’re traveling with kids. And even more so when international boundaries, and technology failures conspire to keep your socially-hyper-connected life from returning to normally scheduled programming.

I’ve been on vacation with my kids and my parents in Canada.  And due to a confluence of factors, my virtual social existence has taken a forced hiatus – no posts, no tweets, almost no status updates, that sound you heard was my Klout score hitting bedrock.  First of all, my hotel was strategically been placed in the only 3G dead-spot in town, neutering my entire iFleet (iPhone, iPad) in one clean slice.   Next, the hotel’s internet service (not-complimentary, eh?) was hard-wire only, with the jack inconveniently placed far from the bedroom with the view.  And finally, just when I thought my MacBook with internet-sharing-over-wifi could swoop in to save the day, other technology gremlins interfered.

All this on the first day. Even the unrelenting “E” icon on my phone indicating the practically useless “Edge” network was mocking me. I was facing 4 more days, two hugely entertaining pre-teens, my parents who were obviously in a worse state of Facebook-withdrawal than I was, and lots of time to “unplug and enjoy”.  And to get some perspective…

Now if you think this is where I launch into a life-affirming soliloquy about the wonders of a simpler existence, you really don’t know me.   I’m more “Eat, Drink, Socialize” than “Eat, Pray Love”.   No, it got me thinking about the natural cycle of disruptive technologies, and where we are now with respect to social networks and personal lives.  Okay, maybe not right away, but after I had tried to break into every wifi access point like a crack-addict on all fours looking for that last hit.

So, coming out of this hopefully will be a few observations in the next few days on what this means for tools and techniques to optimize your use of social networks, the art of balancing the physical with the virtual and getting the most from both.

The state of social

One thing to help get grounded, is where social networks and usage are in terms of adoption, hype, evolution.  Gartner analysts use the notion of the “Hype Cycle” to illustrate the phase of evolution a particular technology or product is in, using catchy descriptors like the “Peak of Inflated Expectations”,  “Trough of Disillusionment”, “Slope of Enlightenment”.  Great for market trends, but as it relates to human interaction with new technology, we can simply break it down into three much simpler phases (tell me if you have better terms)

Phase 1 – Disruption

This phase introduces new ways of doing things, phenomenal new value-adds that rock your world and change your life – like photo sharing, mobile apps, streaming movies, angry birds.  It’s unclear what this means in the long term, only that it will be big.  It’s all good and the promise is infinite.

Phase 2 – Organization

This phase provides some shape and context to the disruptive tech.  It gets a nifty name – “social networks”, “location-based-services”.    More services enter the scene competing for your loyalty – Google+, Instagram, Liveshare.  Most important, on the personal front, this is also when the realities of adoption start to hit – the care and feeding of it all, the time invested.

Phase 3 – Coping

By now this technology is a part of your life, good and/or bad.  It’s no longer your choice, you’re forced to play along, assuming you still want friends, a job etc.  Spammers, politicians and other deviants have figured out how to use it against you.  And much of your time is spent trying to get it under control.   Infomercials hawk products to help you free yourself from it.

In this construct, social networks would be somewhere in Phase 2.  Yes, there is ongoing innovation, but the psychology of sharing and the notion of the social graph is pretty-well gelled.  But for small businesses and entrepreneurs, this is a particularly important time. There is a wide competency gap.  Those who navigate this phase well have a compelling advantage over those who are burnt out or never engaged to begin with.  Think about the early days of websites and email-marketing.

More on this in the coming days.   In the meantime, please vote for my panel discussion at SxSW 2012 with a dream team of small-biz and tech gurus on the topic of reinvigorating innovation without burning out – Entrepreneur Social Burnout – Grab the jumper cable!.  Voting closes next week, so please vote now.

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